Sometimes we eat a good meal but don’t get up from the table feeling satisfied. We’ve eaten enough, but our bodies keep telling us to eat again, eat more, overindulge… This message can be difficult to resist. Most likely, sooner or later, we find ourselves rooting through the refrigerator for that perfect food item to calm those cravings. This can lead to weight gain, digestive problems and metabolic imbalances.
So why does this happen? Satiety — the feeling we’ve had enough to eat — is as much a function of brain chemistry as it is the stomach. If the brain isn’t getting the appropriate signals, regardless of how much is eaten, we feel unsatisfied. It’s not even hunger really; it’s purely the desire to eat more.
This can be especially troubling when we’re trying to lose the holiday half dozen, or following any weight-loss program. We have a plan that maps out meals and activities: Everything should be in order.
Except we need that extra something.
That’s the downside, but there’s also an upside.
While certain foods may fail to satisfy us for very long, others can help us feel more satisfied for hours. So by choosing wisely, we can cancel those cravings and even eat less.
When Hormones Talk, The Body Listens
Like so many biological functions, satiety is governed in part by hormones. One of these hormones is leptin, which is part of a complex system of biochemical signaling that influences feelings of hunger and food satisfaction. People who have a leptin imbalance are almost never satisfied. Diminished hormone levels continually tell their bodies that they’re in the middle of a famine and that they need to eat more.
The other important satiety hormone is ghrelin. While leptin signals us to feel satisfied, grehlin has the opposite message, telling us that we’re hungry. Ideally, after a meal, grehlin levels drop, while leptin increases. However, it doesn’t always work that way: These hormone signals can become imbalanced, and their receptors can become desensitized. These effects can happen for a number of reasons: increased body fat, consumption of certain foods and other hormone. For example, fructose appears to induce leptin resistance, which causes us to feel hungry all the time.
These relationships are complex and appear to influenced by gender, weight and other factors that researchers are just beginning to sort out.
However, studies have shown that lifestyle, supplements and specific foods can help balance hunger signals and feelings of satisfaction. Lack of sleep, for example, is associated with more ghrelin and less leptin, causing us to feel hungrier. Yet another reason to maintain healthy sleep habits.
Eating For Energy
Though it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways to increase satiety is to limit calorie-dense foods like fatty meats, cheeses and fried foods, etc. While these items deliver a lot of calories, they don’t leave us feeling satisfied for long. Cravings return shortly.
On the other hand, by eating a higher volume of low-calorie foods, we fill up on fiber-rich and water-filled foods that help us stay full and energized for longer. This way, we gain an edge on satiety.
In this approach, fruits and vegetables are ideal foods, which is good news, since they’re also nutrient-rich. Sprouted grains, beans and lean protein are next on the list. On the upper end of the caloric-density spectrum: Fatty meats, cheese, snack foods, nuts or butter are more likely to leave us unsatisfied after a short while.
To make things simpler, there’s a satiety index. Created by Australian research Susan Holt, the index is a handy guideline to help us choose the foods that may provide the most satisfaction.
This scale is different from the glycemic index, which measures foods by how quickly they increase and/or lower blood sugar. Sugary and simple carb foods (like white bread and pasta) are high on the glycemic index, meaning they trigger blood sugar levels to spike and crash shortly after eating, causing hunger to return quickly. The satiety index doesn’t measure glucose spikes and crashes, but it does help determine how long you can feel satisfied after eating certain foods. So by emphasizing foods that are high on the satiety index and low on the glycemic index, we can balance eating habits and blood sugar to get the most energy and benefit from our diet.
A number of nutrients and botanicals can contribute to satiety and help stave off hunger. For example, chromium picolinate has been used for years by weight lifters to build muscle. Plus, this nutrient may affect satiety. A study out of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana showed that chromium may have a direct effect on the brain’s perception of satiety.
Another supplement that may improve food satisfaction is fenugreek, a fibrous plant commonly found in Indian food and drinks. Researchers in Minnesota found that fenugreek fiber significantly increases satiety.
Alginates, which are extracted from brown seaweed, showed similar results in anotherstudy. They can also be effective when combined with pectin. A study published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a beverage with this combination increased satiety. And we need only look in our cupboards to find a box of satisfying green tea. Researchers in Sweden found that the beverage increases satiety.
These items are all easy to find. In my practice, I particularly recommend anintegrative metabolic formula, which includes chromium, alginates, fenugreek as well as the amino acids alpha-lipoic acid and l-taurine plus other targeted botanicals. This combination supports glucose metabolism, promotes fat and sugar metabolism and, importantly, helps control cravings while increasing satiety.
Another way to increase satisfaction from meals is to cook and eat mindfully. A colorful presentation of diverse whole foods appeals to our senses and signifies nutritional value and, hence, greater satisfaction. Chewing food slowly and thoroughly allows enough time for the hormonal signals from the digestive tract to reach the brain, telling us we’ve had enough to eat. Chewing food longer increases nutrient absorption in the gut, so we get more nutritional value and, as a result, feelings of satisfaction.
These and other findings highlight our complex relationships with food. It’s not just how much we consume, but also what, when and how we eat. By gaining the upper hand on satiety with the right foods, habits and supplements, we can increase our nutritional intake and our satisfaction with food in general, which ripples out to other areas of health in the process.